I find it useful to think about things by way of metaphors. They’re a great way of painting vivid images without having to explain a bunch of stuff that isn’t relevant to the message I’m trying to communicate.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this. I once read a great metaphor for serving people through business that went a bit like this:

Building a business is like digging a channel from a river so that you can redirect fresh water to a pool that serves a lot of people, rather than just sending someone to the river with a bucket each time some water is required.

I wish I could find where I read this particular metaphor again, because I’m pretty sure the original text did a much better job of painting the picture than I just did. But nevertheless, I’m going to use it as the launching pad for what I want to say.

Carrying buckets

Most likely in a situation where people are having to go and collect some water from a river with a bucket, they’re having to do so on a daily basis. Basically any time there’s a need for some water, some unfortunate soul is going to have to trek down to the river and fill the bucket again.

Depending on the size of the bucket, they may have to make more frequent or fewer trips, and the water might last for more or less time.

This, in my minds-eye – sounds a lot like having a job. In a job you trade your time for money. You only have so much time, so you can only earn a certain amount of money. You might get promoted, or you may get a pay rise – this is equivalent to having a bigger bucket – but you’re still going to have to traipse to and from the river to keep filling it up, because the water always runs out.

Digging a channel

Digging a channel and redirecting the water is clearly the better way to try to deal with the problem of getting liquid from the river to the people, homes and community where it’s needed. Of course, there may be some problems… The river might dry up. The channel might get blocked. Somebody might branch off their own stream from your channel. But you’re basically solving the problem of having to go to the river with your bucket every day.

You’re not just solving the problem for yourself either. By digging the channel you’ve solved the problem for other people in your community too. Many people can drink from the well or pool you’ve created as a result.

And if need be, the pool or the channel can be made larger, to serve even more people. It’s a scalable operation. Since the water is always flowing (so long as the river isn’t dry), you just need to expand the inlet (supply-chain) or the reservoir (outlet) so that more people can avail themselves of your services.

No-doubt there are any number of holes in this particular metaphor. But like I said earlier; it just serves to illustrate a point.

Serving the community

Building a business is all about serving people. It takes time and effort to build the channel by which you deliver your services, but once you’ve done it – lots of people can benefit from the fruits of your labours. Then it’s just a scaling problem. Of course that comes with its own challenges, but your stream is basically serving people, and you just need to grow your operation a bit.

Once you’ve gotten to this stage, your business is having an impact. It’s changing people lives in some big or small way. You and your business are making a difference. That’s a beautiful thing.

I think that for most people, making a difference in the community and the lives of people around them is a fundamental motivation. Too often though, with the grind of day-to-day living and working (carrying those buckets), we lose sight of that.

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